There are plenty of J-Pop fans on the other side of the ocean that dream big- so big, they hope not only to become successful singers, but to become successful singers in Japan. Unfortunately, the chances of realizing such dreams are one in a million… or are they?
Japan has long been labeled as a highly homogenous, almost exclusive society. In pop culture, Americans are often stereotypically depicted as brash and impolite. Furthermore, in everyday life, in case of crime or other offenses, foreigners are also more likely to be suspected of the crime than natives. In the Land of the rising Sun, diversity is scarce, and acceptance of it is even scarcer. However, interestingly, the celebrity scene on this island nation has been ridden with foreign super stars.
In recent years, many non-Japanese singers have rocketed to J-pop fame. True, J-pop’s international outreach started small: The oldest, and possibly the most enduring foreign supply of superstars in the Japanese music world comes not so far from home: many of South Korea’s budding talents have found themselves breaking new ground in Japan.
|Younha's chart-topping Single, "Houki Boushi" (Comet)|
However, after her initial success, sales began to peter down, and from 2006-2008, Younha saw her Japanese career with SONY die a slow and painful death with a string of floppy singles. Luckily, Korea awaited her with open arms when she returned to native soil, and she now enjoys great success in her home country.
|Alan's 1st #1 Single on the Oricon Charts, Kuon no Kawa|
In the past two years however, Japan has broached brave new territory by allowing several Chinese singers into the limelight. Case in point: For Hello! Project fans, 2008 saw the addition of two Chinese members, Junjun and Linlin, to the flagship group Morning Musume. However, one of the highest profiles in J-Pop saw its album debut in 2009, when Avex launched Tibetan-born singer Alan on the path to super-stardom. With her unique Tibetan wailing coupled with beautifully orchestrated, grandiose songs, Alan has slowly but surely climbed to the top of the Oricon Charts, receiving what many call the “Ayu treatment” from her label. Indeed, Alan’s growing success and rapid-fire releases seem to spell special attention from her label:
|A Japanese news program reports on HIMEKA's eccentric beginnings, showing footage of her live promotion event for her debut single, "Asu e no Kizuna"|
Now, so far, we have discussed the rise of the talented in the ranks of the Japanese industry. However, keep in mind that this is the age of Youtube, and anyone is a star, talent or no talent. Even HIMEKA herself first made a name for herself singing covers of anime songs on Youtube. However, the rise of the latest and perhaps youngest western star in Japan proves that it is the gimmick, and not the talent, that earns popularity.
|Beckii "Cruelly" tortures us by butchering what remains of the Japanese phrases in her sorry excuse for a debut single, "Danjo". I blame her managers.|
It is hard to believe, but we have a young Wapanese “Idol”s career taking off right before our eyes. Grounds that were once completely Japanese- or at least, Asian- occupied by the ranks of H!P and other girl groups, are now being infiltrated by the West. And unfortunately, this “idol” doesn’t even have an ounce of the professionalism and trace of actual talent that we have come to expect from our idols. True, she is only fourteen. True, she can bop to a couple of songs. But I have the nagging feeling that once her Wapanese gimmick gets old, she will fade away.
Which leads me to question the validity of a trend I’ve seen with many foreign artists- their initial success, only to be followed by a steady decline after the “freshness” of their appearance has worn off on the public. We’ve seen it with Korean artists, and we’re right in the midst of it with artists such as Alan, HIMEKA, and Beckii. Hopefully, this new batch of artists prove my theory wrong (except for Beckii. Sorry, dear, but you can go back to your internet, non-profit dancing-in-your-room gig.) Is this newfound influx of foreign stars a sign of increasing acceptance or is the public simply observing the alien specimen for their exoticness before tossing each talent aside like a rag squeezed dry?